The kitchen refrigerator has got one heck of a challenge ahead of it when it comes to the automated home. Many household appliance advocates talk wistfully of when the fridge will know all about the food inside it and will be able to tell you that the eggs are about to go bad and that little Johnny just swigged the last of the milk and you are all out. And why stop there? The fridge of the future will order me some more milk when I’m getting low and it’ll arrive via a home delivery solution even before I start to panic about tomorrow’s breakfast.
If this all sounds like a bit of a far-fetched dream, well… it still is. But even at IFA 2015 last week it was a conversation that I heard several times while wandering the home appliance halls. And while the evangelists were preaching the future, I discovered that a more subtle revolution was occurring and that some refrigerators were becoming a little more intelligent.
While none of them knew what food I was likely to eat next, the real trick was that the smarter refrigerators were learning when I used them, and with what frequency. For example, on a given work/school day, all of my family descends on the fridge in a one hour period with almost constant openings and closings. And the more you open it, the more the fridge struggles to maintain its cool. However, the new smarter fridges learn about breakfast time and prepare accordingly, pumping up the power before we begin to raid the fridge. Net result, the fridge can stay cooler during the peak periods. Conversely, if we can tell the fridge that we are going on vacation for a couple of weeks, then it can chill (pun intended) and use less power, safe in the knowledge that no one will be opening the door anytime soon.
If this all sounds familiar, then it should: it is very similar to the function of a smart thermostat today and serves the same fundamental dual purpose of a) working better and b) being more efficient, which leads to saving money. In the recent NPD Connected Home Automation report, controlling energy to save money was the third most important reason for embracing home automation solutions.
It’s a far more compelling reason for purchasing an “advanced” refrigerator than some dream about managing your shopping list. And this is key, because currently the smart appliance message is simply not getting out to the consumers: just 10 percent of consumers have any awareness of the “smart fridge,” with only 4 percent of the base being “somewhat or very” familiar with these devices.
And the refrigerator is hardly the only device that could benefit from some intelligence. Imagine preloading the washing machine before you leave for work, but ensuring that it only starts washing when it knows you are on the way back from work (so the damp clothes don’t sit all day). That could be as simply as an app enabling you to start the cycle remotely, or could even be tied into your connected car. More importantly, if the washing machine could send me an alert letting me know it was finished then I could maximize my couch time without worrying that I will completely forget about the laundry downstairs.